ICT: 30 years ago - in 30 years from now

Roger Torrenti - March 18, 2015

Sigma Orionis has always taken great care to be “on the cutting edge” (as the artist Ben kindly confirmed it in the early 1990s through his painting illustrating this blog), especially regarding its office equipment, and this to achieve high performance levels in our research and studies, to attract the finest talents, to serve our image, etc.

Sigma Orionis was founded in 1984, which obviously evokes George Orwell’s famous novel and his premonitory Big Brother, and the very same year when Apple launched its first Macintosh (the 128K)!

This was a time when we still used typewriters (and carbon paper!), when we sometimes fed punch cards into “big computers”, when fax and even telex machines were still scarce and mobile phones not yet invented, when we had to visit university libraries to order the books we wanted to read, when we waited days if not weeks for answers to our mail (by post!)…

Considerable progress has obviously been made in 30 years in the area we now call “ICT” (Information and Communication Technologies), a progress punctuated with the appearance of terms, some of which are already forgotten or outdated: multimedia, “intelligence” (of sensors, buildings, etc.), Minitel, information highways, wireless, ubiquity, etc. Such advances most often proved to be unpredictable and disruptive, well-known characteristics of innovation in ICT.

But the outcome of these developments in the field of “business” can in fact be caricatured by a mere “contraction of time”, whose advantage must be (more) accurately measured.

Today, we can conduct research or studies faster (always) than before, more effectively (sometimes), in a more competitive environment (especially because of, or thanks to progress in ICT) but all that for the price of increasing time pressure and working conditions which have not necessarily improved.

I can remember very high-quality research and studies in the late 1980s without ICT support performed less quickly but in more pleasant conditions than today…

In this context, are we witnessing doubts or new corporate trends? Finding solutions to the growing tyranny of e-mails and social media? Returning to ways of working more conducive to creativity, not limited exclusively to time spent in front of a screen? Finding interest in “unconnected” moments?

What will ICT be in 30 years from now? In addition to some technological advances we can announce with some degree of certainty (ever-increasing speed, storage capacity, ubiquity, etc), it is obviously hard to anticipate the development of applications and services, these unpredictable changes which will appear as a revolution, once again in 30 years …

Beyond that, we can wonder if the current trends evoked above will be confirmed. What if we were now in a transitional period between “blindly enthusiastic” reception of any progress in ICT and “more reasonable acceptance” of innovation in ITC, more in line with other societal trends towards a “better living”, more sober, more balanced, more sustainable?

This question, among others, will surely be asked in the open seminar we will organize in Brussels in 2014, on the occasion of our 30th anniversary, on the theme “ICT 30 years ago - ICT in 30 years from now.”


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